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Talking Book
Stevie Wonder

Tamla 319
Released: November 1972
Chart Peak: #3
Weeks Charted: 109

Stevie WonderStevie Wonder's second album of 1972 is in many ways a reprise with variations of the first, Music of My Mind. Both are ambitious, richly textured, almost entirely the work of Wonder himself, who produced (with assistance, primarily on Moog work, from Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff), composed the music on all but a few of the lyrics, plays the bulk of the instrumental tracks (aided here and there on Talking Book by eight musicians including, on one cut, Jeff Beck and Buzzy Feiten) and sings densely multi-tracked. Both albums carry Wonder's music into a new mode, a vigorous, complex style based in Stevie's experiments with the synthesizers and his at once playful and assured use of studio techniques. What flaws there were in Music of My Mind resulted from an overindulgence in technique, a sort of let's-see-how-this-sounds fascination with gimmickry which seems to have been brought under control in the new album. So Talking Book is more relaxed, dreamy at times, the laid-back funk of the vocals resting on a deliciously liquid instrumental track like a body on a waterbed. Yet there's never a lack of energy: Even at its dreamiest, the music has a glowing vibrancy. Talking Book, then, is an extension and refinement of of the work begun in Music of My Mind (itself a vast refinement of the uneven efforts in Where I'm Coming From), confirming the achievement and getting more comfortable with it. Making it all seem quite effortless, Wonder has produced another of the very best albums this year.

Most of the love songs on Talking Book have a romantic idealism reflected in the shimmering, translucent quality of the music. "You Are the Sunshine of My Life," "You and I (We Can Conquer the World)," "Lookin' for Another Pure Love" and "I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)" all share this quality without becoming redundant. "I Believe," about the best of this group, begins with a kind of delicately shaded sadness (Yvonne Wright's lyrics: "Shattered dreams, worthless years/Here am I encased inside a hollow shell/Life began, then was done/Now I stare into a cold and empty well") and ends in a partying mood with Stevie shouting, "Come on, let's fall in love." In between, the movement of the song is a gradual opening up, hitting a peak in an exhilarating repetition of the title, Wonder's voice, gorgeously orchestrated on an infinity of tracks, testifying almost gospel-style to the power of love. "Blame It on the Sun" is perhaps the loveliest cut here, with a subtle, atmospheric use of the synthesizer, an instrument Wonder continues to use with masterful restraint, only rarely allowing it to overpower the other instrumentation on the album.

The album's longest cut is another one of its best: "Maybe Your Baby" carries on for nearly seven minutes in a state of exalted despair, riding the rumblings of the synthesizer to an extended build of a finale. Stevie turns his song of betrayed love ("Maybe your baby done made some other plans") into a powerful, somewhat upbeat dance number, the repetition taunting with a vengeance and hypnotizing. "Superstition" is another hard dance cut, picking up some organ feeling from Billy Preston and just the right surge of bright horn work. Altogether, an exceptional, exciting album, the work of a now quite matured genius and, with Marvin Gaye's What's Going On, Sly's There's a Riot Goin' On (an answer album?) and Wonder's own Music of My Mind, one of the most impressive recent records from a black popular performer. Also, it might be noted, one of Motown's handsomest covers, braille and all.

- Vince Aletti, Rolling Stone, 1/4/73.

Bonus Reviews!

Stevie Wonder has another winner here as the multi-talented artist ranges wide with top-notch material all written or co-written by Stevie. "Superstition," his latest single, is included while other fine numbers are "I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)," "Maybe Your Baby."

- Billboard, 1972.

The artist breaks through and takes control, though not in that order. Suddenly he's writing better ballads than he used to choose, and not at any sacrifice of his endearing natural bathos (if you have doubts about "Sunshine of My Life," try "Blame It on the Sun"). "Maybe Your Baby" and "Big Brother" continue his wild multi-voice experiments but come in out of left field. And "Superstition" translates his way of knowledge into hard-headed, hard-rocking political analysis. A

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

Having won his artistic independence from Motown upon his coming of age, Wonder impressed critics with his early 1972 issue, Music of My Mind. In the autumn he stunned scribes with this classic. It generated two US number ones, "Superstition" and "You Are the Sunshine of My Life," and almost overnight established Wonder as the favorite artist of credible rock musicians around the world. At March, 1974 Grammy ceremonies Stevie scored statuettes for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male ("You Are the Sunshine of My Life"), Best R&B Song ("Superstition"), and Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male ("Superstition").

Many listeners were unaware that the first voice heard on "Sunshine" is not Wonder's but that of Jim Gilstrap of "Swing Your Daddy" fame. Deniece Williams and Jeff Beck also gave star support to the album.

Stevie provided an unexpected explanation of "Sunshine" when he said "it deals with the earth. There is an intimate relation, and it also applies to people generally." The song attracted cover versions from a multitude of artists, including Frank Sinatra.

Besides the two hits, Wonder cited as his favorites "Looking For Another Pure Love" and "You've Got It Bad, Girl." The latter was co-written by Syreeta, who also helped pen "I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)," which earned a fine treatment by Art Garfunkel.

In 1987, Talking Book was chosen by a panel of rock critics and music broadcasters as the #74 rock album of all time.

- Paul Gambaccini, The Top 100 Rock 'n' Roll Albums of All Time, Harmony Books, 1987.

The album immediately preceding Talking Book, Music of My Mind, disclosed the tentative beginnings of Stevie Wonder's new direction away from the child prodigy and harmonica player. Music of My Mind was an adventure for musician and keyboards and saw the start of Wonder's longtime involvement with synthesizers. That album alienated many fans.

Talking Book however was an unquestionable success. Not only did Stevie Wonder immediately chart the tracks "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" and "Superstition" as American No. 1s but he made both them and "I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)" instant classics, ensuring a life for his songs beyond the fashions of the charts.

Cutting across traditional musical boundaries of rock/soul, black/white, Talking Book was also blessed with first-rate sound. Stevie Wonder's unrivalled skill in composition and mixing is newly discovered from this Compact Disc.

The Japanese-produced review CD is slightly rounded at both frequency extremes but has a smooth natural vocal character that is most appealing. Synthesizer bass lines have sinuous power; the drum introduction to "Superstition" is a shade boxy.

- David Prakel, Rock 'n' Roll on Compact Disc, 1987.

With this release, Wonder not only forever established his independence from Motown's traditional hit-making formula, he also entered the first rank of popular recording artists on the strength of its two major hits, "You Are the Sunshine of My Life," and "Superstition." Unfortunately, a part of the legacy he created was an excessive reliance on synthesizers in pop/rock music (thereafter generally used by those who lacked either Wonder's genius or vision with expectedly dire results). The sound on this compact disc is pretty clean, somewhat dynamically enhanced, but lacking spatial benefits because overall compression keeps it from escaping the bounds of LP sound. A-

- Bill Shapiro, Rock & Roll Review: A Guide to Good Rock on CD, 1991.

Talking Book is the album that crystallized Wonder as the self-contained singer/songwriter. "Superstition" and "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" were both #1 singles. The rest of the album maintains an equally torrid level. * * * * *

- Rob Bowman, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

Talking Book was almost as good as its follow-up, Innervisions; "Superstition" and "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" gave an inkling of what was to come. * * * * *

- Lawrence Gabriel, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

The greatest one-man band in soul gets help from rock guitarist Jeff Beck, sax man David Sanborn, vocalist Deniece Williams and a host of others on an exultant album of winners, from pretty ballads like "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" to funk-filled dance tunes like "Superstition" and message songs like "Big Brother" that capture the times and yet are universal. Genre-defying, the disc evokes Stevie's pure joy and enthusiasm. * * * * *

- Zagat Survey Music Guide - 1,000 Top Albums of All Time, 2003.

At twenty-two, an age when most men don't even own twenty-two pairs of clean underwear, the prodigious Stevie Wonder had already released twenty-two albums. But Talking Book was only the third since he had taken control of his career from Motown, and it was the one where all his talents first cohered. Playing almost all the instruments and writing all the songs, Wonder made his first masterpiece.

It spawned two huge hits, one a ballad -- "You Are the Sunshine of My Life," whose charm hasn't been killed by decades on adult-contemporary stations -- and one a funk stomp, the deathless, ignorance-decrying "Superstition." Wonder also demonstrated his willingness to try offbeat harmonies and sounds and his unfailing ability to pull them together in a rhythmic whole (like the noodling bursts of harmonica he plays in "Big Brother"). Particularly wonderful is "I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)"; its glowing harmonies could make you believe in anything. * * * * *

- Gavin Edwards, Rolling Stone, 9/4/03.

"I don't think you know where I'm coming from," Wonder warned Motown executives in 1971. "I don't think you understand it." Indeed, the two albums Wonder released in 1972 -- Music of My Mind and Talking Book -- rewrote the rules of the Motown hit factory. Talking Book was full of introspection and social commentary, with Wonder producing, writing and playing most of the instruments himself. "Superstition" and "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" were Number One singles; "Big Brother" is political consciousness draped in a light melody: "You've killed all our leaders/I don't even have to do nothin' to you/You'll cause your own country to fall."

Talking Book was chosen as the 90th greatest album of all time by the editors of Rolling Stone magazine in Dec. 2003.

- Rolling Stone, 12/11/03.

Robert Margouleff's iconic photo of Stevie Wonder -- clad in African robe and crouched in clay, deep in thought -- spoke of the solitary vision his early 1970s trilogy of masterpieces pursued. But the sleeve (featuring sightless Stevie unusually sans sunglasses) also suggested that Talking Book was a confessional album about love, and the loss of it, as befits an artist who has just left his mate (singer Syreeta Wright, who wrote lyrics for two downbeat tracks here).

Opener "You Are The Sunshine Of My Life" was upbeat enough, an ecstatic paean to the redemptive powers of love that was, tellingly, written before Wonder's contractual hiatus from Motown (which resulted in these auteurist soul classics). But the paranoid, sludgy funk of "Maybe Your Baby" (played entirely by Stevie, save for a solo from guitarist Ray Parker Jr.) announced the album's true, uncertain tone. The heartbreaklingly vulnerable "You And I" pondered the fragility of love over a rapturous soundscape of ghostly piano and Margouleff and Malcolm Cecil's keening synths. And "Superstition," the bad-ass clavinet riff Stevie stole back from Jeff Beck, announced a bruised Stevie's cynical take on free love, set against the meanest funk he ever wrote.

The album ended on a hopeful note absent from Fulfillingness' First Finale, two years later. "I Believe" finds Stevie's heart broken, but his belief in love still intact. He would write love songs that charted higher, but never would he deliver so personally felt and so painfully wise a treatise as Talking Book. The book was Stevie Wonder's heart, and it was talking truthfully.

- Stevie Chick, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, 2005.

"I don't think you know where I'm coming from," Stevie Wonder warned Motown executives in 1971. Talking Book was full of introspection and social commentary, with Wonder producing, writing, and playing most of the instruments himself. "Superstition" and "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" were Number One singles, while "Big Brother" is political consciousness draped in a light melody.

Talking Book was chosen as the 59th greatest album of all time in a Rolling Stone magazine poll of artists, producers, critics and music industry figures in Oct. 2020.

- Rolling Stone, 10/20.

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